When one thinks of 19th century couture, the names of Doucet, Worth, Pingat, and Redfern readily come to mind. For the early 1900s, the name of Poiret seems to dominate any discussion of couture. However, there were many other notable couturiers whose names are less known and many of these “unknowns” were women. One such couturière was Jeanne Paquin, the first woman to open her own fashion house.
Jeanne Paquin was born Jeanne Marie Charlotte Beckers in 1869 in Saint-Denis (just north of Paris). Initially apprenticing as a dressmaker, Jeanne later went to work as a dressmaker for Maison Rouff (not to be confused with the designer Maggy Rouff). In January 1891, Jeanne opened her own fashion house with the assistance of Isidore Rene Jacob dit Paquin ( his last name was legally changed to Paquin in 1899), a former businessman and banker; she subsequently married him in February 1891. Mme. Paquin and her husband operated Maison Paquin at 3, rue de la Paix, where for two years prior he was a partner in a couture business under the name of Paquin Lalanne et Cie. Essentially, Mme. Paquin functioned as head designer while her husband acted as her business manager.
In conjunction with her husband, Mme. Paquin introduced a number of innovations that were later to become standard in the couture industry to include opening branch locations in London, Madrid, and Buenos Aires. Also, Paquin introduced innovations such as organizing fashion shows that employed various theatrics. Also, she was one of the first to send models wearing her latest styles to public events such as the opera and the horse races at Longchamps, especially where newspaper reporters and photographers were sure to be present (today we would consider it creating buzz). Finally, Mme. Paquin marketed on an international scale and to supplement her branch locations, she also organized travelling shows that would tour major cities, most notably in the United States.
In a short time, Mme. Paquin’s stature in the fashion world had grown to the point where she was elected President of the fashion section of the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.
In terms of style, Paquin appealed to a more youthful, fashion-forward clientele and she was noted for he attention to detail and the creative use of colors and fabrics in her designs. Although she got her start in the 1890s, there is not much in the way of extant garments and it’s not until the early 1900s that we see her designs in full development. To start things off, below are some examples from the 1890s:
The above example is an evening dress from the late 1890s. Although the dress is labeled as an “evening suit” by the Met Museum, I would be inclined to argue that perhaps this is more of an afternoon/visiting dress for daytime wear and especially since it consists of a skirt, jacket, and waist. The fashion fabric appears to be a dark plum-colored silk velvet with the design in a mauveine/purple silk satin fabric; the mauveine almost appears to radiate. 🙂
But lest one thinks that all of Paquin’s designs were all dark, below is a day dress from the late 1890s:
The fashion fabric of the skirt and part of the bodice appear to be a champagne-colored silk satin (no description was provided by the Met website). Interestingly enough, the sleeves and upper part of the bodice of a darker, more golden colored silk satin. Unfortunately, the pictures do not allow a closer examination. The bodice front and sleeves are draped with a layer of thickly woven lace, forming a peplum of sorts on the bodice front. The collar and neck have a more delicate lace. Decoration and trim are fairly minimal but what there is there is very detailed.
Overall, what we see is a dress with fairly clean lines both with the skirt and bodice. While the lace peplum adds an interesting element to an otherwise simple bodice, it does not obscure the bodice’s lines nor does it overwhelm. Although the Met website does not give a specific date, we would be inclined to date this dress from the late 1890s, especially since the sleeves are a bit restrained but still retain the leg-of-mutton silhouette. Finally, the lace peplum seems to be a precursor to the lace and net-covered pigeon-breast bodices that were to come into vogue in the early 1900s.
Finally, just to show Mme. Paquin’s range, below is a ball gown from 1895:
As ball gowns go, this one definitely reads mid-1890s with its hourglass-shaped silhouette. The fashion fabric of the skirt appears to be an ivory and pastel salmon silk print (although a closer examination in person might change that assessment) and the bodice appears to be a salmon-colored chiffon. Trim and decoration are fairly minimal with the neckline and shoulders are trimmed in ecru-colored lace and fabric flowers decorating the bodice front. In some ways this dress seems to be a precursor to the floral print dresses that Dior and Yves Saint Laurent were to design in the 1950s:
The above has only been a small sampling of Mme. Paquin’s range and unfortunately, there just are not a lot of examples that are still extant. However, it’s obvious that in comparison with Worth, Doucet, and Pingat, Paquin’s designs seemed to emphasis the base fashion fabrics and their color rather than obscuring them with a lot of excess decoration. Of course, we’re working with a small example here but it’s clear that she was moving in her own direction. However, it wasn’t until the early 1900s that she would really stand out as a designer and in our next installment, we’ll take a look her Paquin’s work during the early 1900s. Say tuned!